Of course I’d like to say I studied here, well no not really, it wouldn’t have been the best or right place for either of us, but oh boy what a lovely place to immerse yourself in academia if you’re so inclined.
And the day we explored was graduation day so plenty of smiling happy family’s milling around the closed gates Sheldonian.
And without any logical plan of our own we just walked around town enjoying the atmosphere
And soaking up some of the history of the place
There was too much reading up to do
and taking good photos was proving difficult
But Christchurch has to be the most magnificent
Or perhaps not wanting to be left behind Magdalen College
Which sits on the banks of the Cherwell and where we could watch the haphazard tourists trying to outdo the students punting. The queue was long so we didn’t have a go
And we ended our day back at Christchurch for choral evensong
We waved goodbye to the lovely Buttercup meadows of Eynsham
Past Dukes Cut junction where we joined the Thames a few weeks ago, and into Kings lock. Which although it didn’t have any fancy topiary that we’d seen upstream but was appropriately guarded for a king. Kings lock was the last pound lock built by the Thames Conservancy in 1928 when George V was on the throne so I assume it was named for him.
The next lock, at Godstow was the first stone built lock built in 1790. Godstow had been home to an Abbey and nunnery but Henry VIII put paid to that during the resolution of the monasteries, I wonder if that’s where some of the lock stones came from.
Now Godstow is the first of the electro-hydraulic locks we shall meet on our journey downstream. We shared it with a lovely young couple who showed us which buttons to press.
We cruised through Port Meadow and caught our first glimpses of Oxford’s dreaming spires, although the skyline was over dominated by cranes taller that the beautiful buildings we strained to see.
Under the Red Bridge or Medley foot bridge to give it s proper name,
And onto a mooring snuggled into the trees
Where the next day we had a spur of the moment meeting when Amanda stopped off for lunch as she just happened to be driving past.
Port Meadow is a pleasant 20 minute walk into the centre of Oxford, so as we couldnt see any mooring restrictions, we settled down to enjoy a bit of a holiday.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect from the Thames. On the Trent, mooring was more or less restricted to the floating pontoons around the locks, and we had to call ahead on our VHS radio to alert lock keepers we were approaching, but not on the Thames.
The Trent’s frequent electric charging posts were a real bonus, just paying for what we needed on our precharged card. But it felt a bit like a motorway, plenty of boats getting from A to B as quickly as possible. The Upper Thames has a very different feel. Its a lot quieter, and people are simply enjoying the river. And the riverside pubs.
We’ve taken to the challenge of wild mooring. Who needs armco or pins when you can tie to a tree.
Ok we do, but its been a novelty that we’ve enjoyed. Perhaps its the time of year, mid May, that everything is fresh and green.
Or even yellow
We found ourselves a bit of steep bank that we could get close enough into to be able to get on and off
And a field full of buttercups
Just outside of Eynsham, so whilst I sat in the field with my little electric spinning wheel
Eric sat on the roof of the boat wiring in the last of our solar panals. Needless to say retro fitting panels that require wiring being threaded up, under and behind every conceivable obstruction is not to be recommended and all I can say is no wonder it took him so long to psyche himself up to tackle the job.
Whilst Eric was engrossed in his project, I thought I’d take myself for a walk up that hill, only to discover that its part of the Wytham Woods estate, owned by one of the Oxford Colleges. It is a research site containing ancient woodland that has remained under strict preservation since the 1940s and the general public are not allowed in without special permission. Perhaps next time we are here, I’ll be better prepared and will get that permission in advance.
In the mean time I’ll just happily watch another sunset
One of the many nice things about cruising on rivers is that the locks are often manned
with someone keeping an eye open for those brave enough to pass through
and invariably a doddle compared to canal locks even if the lockie isnt on duty
The Upper Thames lockies use a long pole and hook to open and close the far side. Its very impressive.
But what’s also impressive is that the lock keepers job comes with a cottage,
Which is ok until you remember these guys are also only paid for a working week but are on call 24/7 – Unless its lunch time from 1 till 2 every day. However the river seems quiet with not much traffic which is probably why they have enough time to keep their gardens looking good. We think there must be a degree of rivalry over who can have the best topiary Although it looks like the frog wants to eat the tulips.
Not sure if this is a fancy haircut, or work in progress, either way it made us chuckle
But the winner surely has to be the grafton cat ready to pounce on the swan
Whilst we were cruising back downstream we became very aware of the air traffic. The escorted jet was bringing Boris back from India, or might have been, because moments before we saw an identical entourage, so one of them must have been a decoy. We think the two flying in parallel might have been in training for mid air refuelling because they really stuck close by each other for the best part of a morning. And the jet on its own, was one of many that we saw, including the Awax reconnaissance planes, checking we had paid for a Thames license. Once we looked at the map and realised how close we were to several RAF bases, the quantity of planes made sense.
The swan by the way is sitting on 8 eggs, and the cat is actually hoping for some tuna to swim past.
We didn’t linger in Lechlade, it was cold and despite it being a pretty little place we decided to save our explorations for another time. We meandered back along the twists and turns of the river enjoying the countryside until we found a bank to moor against where I could get of the boat with my dignity intact and Eric could climb onto the roof to do some more solar panel wiring.
Although I thought we were in the middle of nowhere, it turns out to have been a favourite place of the Victorian textile designer William Morris. He rented the 16th century manor house at Kelmscott to help him escape the paparazzi of his day.
I wonder what he would have made of the likes of me wandering around his garden, marvelling in the beauty of the place
I would have loved to go inside the manor, as it has been conserved and is open to the public but only on certain days.
However as the gates were open and it isn’t anyone’s home I had a sneaky walk around outside.
One of Morris’ ideals and concerns was the damage done by architectural restoration. No wonder he loved this village, I felt like I had stepped back in time a few centuries.
I think it would be quite an enjoyable challenge to walk the entire Thames Path
Yesterday, when we arrived, there were happy families playing in the river here at Radcot, but this morning it was kagouls not kayaks or cossies. But we needed to push on as we had booked a mooring at St John’s Lock for that night.
And luckily the showers became more intermittent and the locks were manned
Despite it being a bank holiday weekend the river was quiet, probably a good job looking at all the twists and turns we had to navigate
After two hours we were quite glad to moor up under the watchful eye of Old Father Thames
One of the benefits of river cruising is the availability of electric charging points along the way. And the Environment Agency gives mooring priority to electric boats. The downside is that they ask that you book 48 hours in advance, which we had done, but then had to cruise in the drizzle this morning to arrive on time. But equally so, we were able to plan to arrive with a low battery reading and leave the next day fully charged with enough power for a week or more.
We woke to a beautiful misty morning full of promise
So off we set, bright and early, well earlyish as it was before 10am. The paddlers and rowers were out on the river but we hadn’t seen any other narrowboats until we saw one coming downstream, it was Ian and Irene on NB Freespirit.
We both got our cameras out to snap each other
But Irene is much more up to date with their blog and posted first. It’s not often we get photos of the two of us cruising.
We hadn’t set ourselves a destination to aim for today but the sun was now beaming down on us and it was a real pleasure to be out on the water. Lots of different sorts of bridges from what we are used to on the canals, some wooden,
Beautiful blue skies, albeit it criss crossed with contrails
And some cosy woodland
Although some of the trees did make us chuckle
and plenty of cows probably chuckling at us.
and plenty of cows probably chuckling at us.
We moored up just before Radcot, we’d been cruising for nearly 7 hours which is a lot for us and if truth be told 2 hours longer than we ought to have been out in the sun. But as we were approaching a bank holiday we weren’t expecting it to last, and sure enought it was raining before bedtime.
Back in January we declared our intentions to cruise 110miles south to reach the River Thames in Oxford. 4 months later we have made it. That’s near enough 120 miles 120 days (we added a few miles on doing some of the Birmingham loops)
Believe it or not, we didn’t actually cruise a mile every day, but despite a few rough moments, storm Dudley, loosing my phone, loosing all the water in a canal, and recently loosing David, its been a good few months of a new adventure. And about a month later than we thought, we are finally here, leaving the Oxford Canal and going through Dukes Cut onto the River Thames.
Duke’s cut was built by George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough, to enable him to take advantage of Warwickshire coal, by joining the canal to the river. Today it’s home to a small group of permanent moorers, which could make two way traffic tricky, but we were lucky and didn’t meet anyone.
We hadn’t got the nicest of travelling days to move onto the Thames, but it didn’t take us long to reach Eynsham Lock and a lovely warm welcome from a lock keeper to show us the ropes. We’ve attached our long ropes for locking, got our anchor and mud weights ready to deploy if necessary and rescued the life savers from bottom of the cupboard just in case we fall overboard, so we are river ready. There’s plenty of quirky things to see and as we left the lock, she pointed out the Swinford toll bridge.
Its one of two toll bridge that remain over the Thames. Motorists have to pay the owner the pricely fee of 5p and endure the privilege of long queues to do so, and regularly campaign to abolish the toll. But with 10000 vehicles using it daily, it doesn’t take a calculator to work out why the owners don’t want to forfeit this tax free golden goose. George III also decreed that no other bridge was allowed to be built within 3 miles of Swinford Bridge.
Our next lock Pinkhill, was self service, which gave us a better opportunity to look around and see the wheel wind, so much easier than using a windlass. Raised Red equals paddles open, raised white equal paddles closed.
The weather really wasn’t inspiring for cruising, so we moored up for lunch at the Pinkhill picnic mooring . Another new treat for us knocking pins into a field.
And as soon as we decided to call it a day the sun came out
We don’t really know Oxfordshire but we do know its a canal we would like to cruise again. Its very pretty, there’s plenty of variety, and apart from a couple of rogue booze cruise hirers very peaceful. We managed to set off from the quarry without Eric falling in.
And enjoyed the bluebells along the way
And some of last years tall reeds
Through some more woods
And some open fields, this one had sheep goats and alpaca grazing, but Eric was more excited to see Whitehill satellite earth station at Enslow. It’s one he may have visited during his early engineering days.
The next lock took us onto the River Cherwell and we instantly felt the boat speed up without us touching the throttle, (or bottle for that matter) It’s amazing how much the width of the river increases the efficiency of our transit.
But it wasn’t to last as we were squeezed into one of those odd shaped locks, known as coffin locks,
to take us the last few twists around to Thrupp. We were lucky to get moored in, and while everyone else was looking at the beautifully kept village, we were both looking at the mooring edge and thinking the same thing. Its clean, its low and its a perfect edge to paint the gunwale from.
We hadn’t intended to stay more than one night at Thrupp, but it was too good an opportunity to miss.
So whilst Eric exercised his artistic talent with the paintbrush, I got my spinning wheel out and enjoyed a few hours in the sunshine.
We weren’t the only ones taking advantage of this lovely spot,
Brian the Blacksmith had set up shop and I was very tempted with his dragon But it was beyond my pocket money budget and I if I’m honest I knew I’d have trouble finding a place for it to live and be admired.
Thrupp really is a lovely place, whilst Eric was painting I enjoyed walking into Kidlington and along river and I’m sure we want to moor here again, if only so Eric can paint the other side to match,
And because there was a function going on we decided not to go for a pint of bitter at the Boat, which is where Lewis and Morse used go to unwind at the end of a hard case.
We’ve spent more than a few weeks on the periphery of Banbury this year.
Its an ideal place for a continual cruiser, with access to facilities and a good train line but we get the impression that the holiday boaters just pass straight through without realising what they might be missing. Ok the canal itself isn’t going to grace many chocolate boxes, but never the less canal users owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tooley’s boat yard slap bang in the centre.
Tooley’s is one of the oldest canal dry docks still in use on our waterways. Built when this section of Oxford Canal was completed at Banbury in 1778 (it finally made it to Oxford in 1790) it has operated continually ever since. There was a bit of uncertainty in the 1980s when the Castle Quay shopping centre was being built but thankfully Banbury is known for its canal campaigners and the little boat yard with its 200 year old forge and dry dock was incorporated into the structure of the centre and the Banbury Museum
Tooley’s has helped preserve many heritage boats and Hardy, the last wooden boat built by Nursers of Braunston is moored here now.
However the boat most have heard of is Cressy, a wooden hulled boat that Tom Rolt one of the leading campaigners used to preserve our beautiful waterways.
She started life as a horse drawn fly boat in 1915 and after her trading days came to an end she was bought by Tom’s uncle Kyrle Williams. He had her converted to run on steam, but they quickly realised that it was impractical to cruise through tunnels so the steam engine was replaced by a motor from an old model T Ford. Cressy went on to have several other owners until Tom bought her in 1939 and had Tooleys do a complete refit so that he and his first wife Angela could live aboard. They then began a campaign maintain and reinvent the waterways for the benefit of all. If Tom and Angela hadn’t led the way, who knows if anyone else would have fought for what we love so dearly. In 1944 they set up the Inland Waterways Association. There is much much more to this tale, and Tom has ties to many places on the canals, but Banbury is where he set off from on his first campaign. And he is comemorated with a blue plaque and a bridge named after him
Of course Banbury isn’t only famous for its waterways connection, the towns traditions were recorded in a nursery rhyme.
Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady upon a white horse….. I tried to find out more about its origins, but as with most traditional storytelling words and their meanings have changed over the centuries so I think “you pays your money and takes your pick”
The rhyme we know today was published in 1784 after the canal arrived in Banbury, although I think that is coincidence rather than relevant, as it probably dates back to an early medieval period. The main Banbury cross was demolished by the puritans around 1600 and the current one was built in 1859 to commemorate the marriage of queen Victoria’s eldest daughter.
We’re now heading south on our adventures, but I know there’s more to Banbury still to explore.